BMWs are not bulletproof
Of course I’d heard the marketing hype that suggested that BMWs are tough, BMWs are sturdy, BMWs are so reliable they’re damned near bulletproof! But little did I know when I left Toronto full of optimism that I’d get the chance to find out if the bulletproof myth was literally true.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all started out simply enough. Having recently retired, I thought I’d tour Mexico while it was still too cold to ride comfortably in Canada. The decision was not exactly spur of the moment I had bought a BMW G650GS Sertao specifically for the trip but left the planning until the last minute.
So I hit the internet and asked people on the usual adventure forums for recommendations. Some replies were from the “have you been living under a rock? Mexico is too dangerous” point of view. Others were more reassuring “don’t worry about the naysayers Mexico is a fabulous place to ride and relatively safe”.
Everyone suggested that a good idea for your first ride into Mexico was to take an organized tour, which I immediately waived off with a pish tosh as I’d already ridden in Alaska, Peru, Chile; I was experienced, I didn’t need a baby sitter.
Ultimately I hooked up with a group of Arizonians and Texans who were going for a ride in Mexico, at the right time, on the right bikes. They were experienced riders who had been to Mexico many times before and, although this was just a fun ride for them, they had previously led tours there too. Perfect.
My first question to the group’s organizer was, “is it safe?” “Mostly”, was the answer. Her first question to me was, “can you ride?” “Mostly”, I answered, feeling very clever. She didn’t laugh. “You’re not going to hold us up are you? There’s some off road, are you sure you can handle it?”
Stick up at El Fuerte
Well, in the end, mostly happened to be a good description. I did suffer a minor crash (deep sand has always been my nemesis) but despite that I didn’t hold them up. Unfortunately, we did get held up, at gunpoint, which is the real subject of this fable.
On that fateful day we left our hotel for an off-road, day ride with the most basic of instructions; Head down this path untill you get to the cemetery, turn left on the big dirt road then just follow that road for a couple of hours and it will take you to El Fuerte (a cool town and is supposedly where the legend of Zorro was born). If you get lost just point and say “El Fuerte”, everyone knows where it is.
My Spanish vocabulary is limited to, cuatro cervesas por favor, so after numerous trials and tribulations, four and a half hours into our two-hour trip we finally came out of the deep sand and choking dust onto a big, wide, smooth, paved road in perfect condition only a few kilometers from El Fuerte.
That euphoria that all exhausted dirt riders feel when they finally hit pavement after a taxing ride, made us all relax and we started to spread out a bit. We were up to speed we were starting to cool off, the sun was shining and the birds were singing, a real Disney moment.
Suddenly as we crested the top of a rolling hill I saw some people running out into the road waving frantically. Caught up in the Disney of the moment I thought ‘Isn’t this cute, some local kids waving at the bikes as they go by.’ Wait a minute – these kids were wearing masks and brandishing handguns. There were five of them and five of us.
The person leading at the time was a woman named Pricilla riding one of those BMW 650 twins that really are 800s. Since we were a little spread out, the first person they got to was Pricilla, who duly stopped.
Gunman number one (sticking with the Disney theme, let’s call him Dopey) grabbed her by the arm as she rolled to a stop and put a gun to her head (helmet) then started to force her toward the soft gravel shoulder.
In the meantime gunmen two thru five had started running the 100 yards or so back toward where the rest of us had stopped. I was next in line so it was decision time. I realized I couldn’t leave Pricilla, so turning and running wasn’t really an option, I also had no idea what the guys behind me were doing so I had to decide for myself and quickly.
I started to think those desperate thoughts that come to mind in these situations (though this wasn’t the first time I’d had a gun pointed at me, did I mention I was originally from Jamaica?). Maybe, just maybe Dopey would drop his guard once he got Pricilla onto the soft sand of the shoulder, allowing her to make a run for it.
Unlike Dopey I knew she was fearless and a very good dirt rider, so I decided if she goes I go too. So I put the bike in first gear, revs up, clutch in – watching, waiting.
Gunman number two (we’ll call him Grumpy) was getting closer, and Dopey still had Pricilla and almost gotten her onto the shoulder.
Grumpy, who was only 15 yards away now, perhaps sensed I was about to do something stupid and fired his gun into the air to let me know it was loaded and that he wasn’t screwing around.
My window of opportunity was closing, I decided on discretion, and let the revs drop to idle (still in gear, clutch in though). Grumpy grabbed the top of my windshield with one hand and put his gun to my head with the other. He had fire in his eyes and was screaming at me in Spanish so I just kept saying “no comprende,” all the while watching Pricilla, waiting for her to make her move.
Gunmen three through five were behind me now, so I didn’t know what was going on back there. I didn’t even know how far behind me the other guys were, they may even have taken off for all I knew. I kept my eye on Pricilla, figuring that what happened to her would be a good indication of what was going to happen to the rest of us.
All thoughts of flight were now slipping away.
The Great Escape
Suddenly my imagined scenario started to play out, Dopey finally got Pricilla to the shoulder and relaxed; he still had her by the arm but had turned around to see what was happening with the rest of us – taking the gun off her helmet in the process. In an instant, she was gone.
Dopey, his hand still on her arm, was pulled off his feet. He clawed desperately with his gun hand trying to grab the back of her bike, but she was already in second gear, and he went tumbling.
Grumpy, hearing the roar of the engine and the spraying of gravel, looked over his shoulder to see what was happening but kept his gun on me. Spinning back around he saw something happening behind me, raised his gun and fired over my shoulder.
Here was my moment. The second the gun left my helmet I popped the clutch and hit the throttle. The bike launched (thank you fuel injection) and Grumpy, still holding the top of my windscreen, was knocked off balance.
I was flat on the tank, 2nd gear, 3rd, 4th. Two of my riding buddies on larger more powerful GSs went blowing past, while more gunshots rang out.
Pricilla and Rufus kept going while my other buddy Carlos and I stopped over the crest of a hill to regroup. There was no sign of Leroy, the last member of our group.
While we were dithering trying to decide what to do (we couldn’t just leave the guy, but we couldn’t go back unarmed either), we saw his headlight coming down the road. With all five of us now safely away, we booked it into town where we found Pricilla and Rufus already talking to the cops.
As we pulled up we realized that Carlos’s bike had a flat rear tire and gasoline was pouring out of a hole in his under seat fuel tank. It seems that not all the shots were fired into the air. Then, as Leroy pulled up we noticed the spider web of cracks radiating from a bullet hole in his windshield.
Turns out, this was the reason he decided not to run for it one of Grumpy’s “warning shots” had gone through his windshield and being too close for comfort had had the desired effect. After giving the Gunmen a dummy wallet (with very little money in it) and his cell phone he was smacked in the side of the helmet with a gun and told to “vamonos” which he gladly did.
The cops took a statement to make us feel better but we all knew that the bandidos were long gone and there was little chance of catching them.
They told us that it was not a coincidence that there were five of them and five of us. Apparently the likely scenario was that we had been spotted on the dirt road and it was assumed we were heading to El Fuerte. A quick cell phone call was all it would take to set up an ambush in an appropriate location down the road.
“Why the hell did you run?” they asked. “You could have been killed; all they wanted was your money.” How were we to know? Besides, once the getaway started to unfurl, everything else just sorta happened.
After admonishing us for destroying evidence, (while they were taking statements I’d repaired the bullet holes in the fuel tank and rear rim of Carlos’s bike with an epoxy-based glue) they let us go.
Carlos’s tire was plugged and re-inflated and we made our way back to the hotel for a much needed margarita or two.
Stories of adversity seem to make more interesting reading than just another travelogue about how fabulous some far off destination is. But the truth is, I would go for another ride in Mexico in a heartbeat.
Hopefully one day I’ll have an opportunity to describe how wonderful the riding was, the food was, the scenery was and most importantly, the people were (most of them anyway).
So, although the bike did perform flawlessly for the duration of the 14,500km round trip, I guess BMWs are not actually bullet proof after all, at least not literally.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.